Dr. Raj Yavatkar, Senior VP and Fellow, VMware

IPL was privileged to host senior technocrat Dr. Raj Yavatkar at our Koramangala campus in July 2017. Dr. Yavatkar has blazed a career focused on path breaking innovations in networking and cloud technology and is the lead author on 60+ research papers and 35 patents. He is currently a Fellow at VMWare, having spent a significant portion of his career at Intel, where he was a Fellow as well.

We wanted to get your feedback on the happenings in the Indian ecosystem, especially in the product cycle. What is your thought on product management and product leadership?

Historically, Indian industry has undergone change. The tech industry started as outsourcing services industry. The last 20 years or the first 20 years of that was focused on outsourcing of services where there is no concept of product management or product leadership. Somebody tells you that this is the job and you go and do that.

The last few years, especially the last 5-10 years, there is a concept of building products, which is mostly done by entrepreneurs. These are young guys who by definition are product leaders. They’re not just product managers. They start with the concept; they do everything that an entrepreneur does. I think those are the people who are going to grow the ecosystem into product leadership. But most of the industry here is based on engineering management who are reactive to concepts given to them.

Product management, as a discipline, tends to be focused on project management – more refinement of requirement and seeing through the releases and so on. Product leadership requires a lot more than that – a lot more strategic outlook, understanding the trends and coming up with ideas and shepherding an idea end-to- end - starting from vision, strategy, actual definition, and keep on delivering the products. That’s still not happening in India in a larger scale except for the startup industry.

What do you think is required now? What is the need of the moment in India, especially in tech? How and when will the next Apple come up in India? Will it ever come out from India? And if it going to come out, what is required?

I tend to be extremely optimistic about India because India also has some success stories, like Flipkart, where huge companies came out of here. So, I do believe that you have to be optimistic and (say) India will produce a large set of companies with a global footprint. But I think what has to change is that people – that’s where the IPL-like organization is extremely important because people do not have the theoretical underpinnings of what it takes to become a product leader.

What does it even mean to be a product manager? That concept is even indirectly not attributed in the US. In the US, product management is a well-understood discipline. Product leadership happens. If you’re an engineering manager today, how do you grow to be the CEO or a senior VP or an executive VP? Unless you transform yourself into a product leader, you can’t get there. So, understanding the principles of product leadership is very important.

Interesting article floating around today on lay-offs. One article that I shared is about how important is product management skills for the techies to stay away from the lay-off. But how important are product management skills for engineering management and techies right now in India to keep growingon the ladder chain in their careers?

It is important for two reasons. First, if as a company you want to continue to be successful and expand, engineering managers have to grow into product managers and product leaders. For your own career, if you want to grow up the executive ladder, then you cannot stay as an engineer manager. You can’t even stay as a product manager. You must evolve into a product leader. That’s very important for people to understand – both for career management and also for the survival in the industry.

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